Written by Kate Moran
1. Learn Arabic. One word, five words. You don’t have to be fluent—and no one’s expecting you to be—but the more you know and the harder you try to meet people where they are, the more welcomed you’ll feel and the richer your experiences abroad will be.
 2. Avoid tourist traps. By all means, visit Petra. Go to the markets in Marrakesh. Stop by the pyramids in Egypt and check out Beiruti nightlife in Lebanon. But don’t forget about the paths less traveled. They’re often the most rewarding. Why would you want to come back from a one-in-a-lifetime trip with the same travel stories as every other American? Opt for restaurants, recommended by locals, over those that the guidebooks recommend; attend a festival or concert in the city where you’re staying; hike the wadis in Jordan and attend a soccer match in Egypt, which are legendary; check out a local bookstore or teahouse. Get lost (within reason), and ditch the Lonely Planet. Don’t forget, the best adventures are the ones you stumble across, not plan.
3. Find local friends. Having a person who knows the city has several benefits: it prevents you from being taken advantage of by the occasional taxi driver or shopkeeper who wants to charge you over market value; it also gives you an “in” to events that you probably wouldn’t hear about otherwise. So stake out a local café and strike up a conversation with the artsy girl sitting at the next table over. Visit bookstores and hang around the local university. You’ll find that people love to help—and will often invite you to meet their friends and show you around the city.
4. Try the food. Even if it’s weird, even if you think you won’t like it, try something you’ve never eaten before. Branch out—man cannot rely on falafel aloneMansef in Jordan, fool in Egypt, shakshuka in Israel—foodies, you won’t be disappointed.
5. Leave your expectations at the airport. When you board that plane at LAX, in Atlanta, or at Dulles, forget everything you’ve heard about the Middle East from your grandma/friend’s friend/Fox News. Yes, you should mitigate risks; before you go, register with the State Department’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program); be aware of gender norms and expectations specific to the countries you’ll be visiting. Dress appropriately, keep money out of sight, be smart about when and how much you drink. But most of all, remember that the Middle East was a rich and thriving region long before ISIS or Al-Qaeda rolled into town. People are friendly, and want to make you feel welcome. If you can leave your preconceived notions at the door of what you think the Middle East will be like, you’ll have the time of your life. Yalla, let’s go!

Kate Moran is a recent Emory alum who has called the ATL her home for the last four years. In June, she’ll be taking a gap year to work and travel in the Middle East—and will do her best to not look like a tourist. Follow her on twitter @katewestmoran or check out her blog: middleeastmeanderings.wordpress.com.

 

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